When the Academy Honours Board was revealed for the first time in December 2018, our Under-13 squad was in attendance… and they were told that if they worked hard enough, that board would have a space for their name one day.
A nice sentiment… but less than two years later, we’re going to need a bigger board!
Under-13s in front of the Honours Board when it was unveiled in December 2018
Tom Holmes was also in attendance for the unveiling – at the time, he had been our most recent graduate of our esteemed Academy to have debuted for the Royals first-team in competitive action. That had come nine months earlier, when he played the 90 minutes against a Bolton Wanderers side that included another of our homegrown products in Jem Karacan.
There were 16 placeholders waiting to be filled on that December day… and now every single one of them is taken.
Tom McIntyre earning his first appearance for Reading in Rotherham
Just a fortnight later, Tom McIntyre became the first to need his name adding to the list when he was handed a start against Rotherham. Then a week later, Gabriel Osho played against Middlesbrough. Before the season was out, Ryan East, Michael Olise and Teddy Howe all had their first-team debuts under the belt.
Another five fledgling players were added last season, and within the first three games of the 2020-21 campaign, six aspiring footballers who have come through the Reading youth system have had their first taste of professional football with the Royals: Luke Southwood, Ethan Bristow, Nahum Melvin-Lambert, Dejan Tetek, Lynford Sackey and Nelson Abbey.
Nelson Abbey taking us up to 63 graduates with his sub appearance on Tuesday
That takes us up to 63 players who have graduated from our youth setup to represent Reading at senior level.
This season, four of those players – Omar Richards, Tom McIntyre, Michael Olise and Andy Rinomhota – are all wearing single-digit squad numbers… proof if it’s needed that they are already considered important first-team players despite their tender ages!
Omar Richards wearing the #3 shirt in our opening fixture
Many of those listed have moved on to pastures new, and are making their own way in the game… including Gylfi Sigurdsson, Hal Robson-Kanu and Michael Hector who are all Premier League players, and Mikkel Andersen, Andrija Novakovich, Axel Andresson and Danny Loader who have all flown the nest to undertake challenges overseas. Not to mention those players who came through the system but never quite earned a first-team appearance for the Royals… but whose grounding at our Academy helped prepare them for their future careers as professional players.
We didn’t ever anticipate those final 16 places to fill up in the space of 21 months. But why should we have doubted it? And with our Academy this season moving to Bearwood Park on a full-time basis, the opportunities for development have never been better for those boys who have their hopes of getting their first pro deals in the next few years.
So we’re going to have to replace the board, to give the next generations of talent some room to expand into… watch this space.